Grading the Rookie Quarterbacks Halfway Through The Preseason

Baker Mayfield

All eyes were on the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft during Cleveland’s preseason opener against the New York Giants — and Mayfield delivered. The former Sooner showcased the same level of electricity that made him a legend in Norman. Mayfield’s performance was highlighted by his second drive of the night — a 14-play, 72-yard epic that concluded with a dart to tight end David Njoku in the back of the end zone.

One thing we learned from Cleveland’s first two games is that Mayfield (and any other Browns quarterback) will likely be running for his life on passing downs. New York’s second-team defense obliterated the Browns in the trenches, forcing Mayfield to rush his throws and move out of the pocket often. The line play was a bit better against Buffalo in Week 2, but it was hardly an inspiring performance. Fortunately, Mayfield is a bit more athletic than given credit for, and dealt with the pressure well. Mayfield’s quick release and ability to throw from multiple angles will be imperative to his success early on.

Overall, the Browns faithful have to be pleased by Mayfield’s performance. Had Derrick Willies’ spectacular touchdown grab not been overturned, Mayfield would have three touchdowns (and zero interceptions) with just under 300 passing yards in a little less than four quarters of play. The last time a Browns QB posted 300 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a regular season game was Jason Campbell in 2013, and the last time a Browns QB posted those numbers in a win was Trent Dilfer in 2005. Tom Brady has matched or exceeded this stat line 29 times in the same time span. Cleveland has been more QB-starved than any other franchise, but they may have finally found their guy.

GRADE: A-

Sam Darnold

The Jets front office were dumbfounded when Darnold was still available at No. 3. Likely the top QB on their board, there was no way the Jets were going anywhere else with their pick. Even with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in tow, it looks like they made a wise decision.

Darnold looked the part in his first two games of action. New York kept it simple with its play-calling, working in some roll-outs and other tactics to get Darnold on the move. His best play came against Atlanta in Week 1. On a 3rd-and-11 on the Falcons’ side of the field, Darnold expertly executed a picture-perfect bootleg, and delivered a strike moving towards his left for the first down. The play embodied every facet of Darnold’s game that made him a top pick — intelligence, maneuverability, and arm strength.

Any nerves over Darnold being turnover-happy at the next level were calmed a bit. The USC product was calculated in every throw he made. Routinely, Darnold would work through multiple progressions, and generally made the correct reads on when to check-down.

Darnold earned the start in New York’s second preseason game, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be the starter once the regular season begins.

GRADE: B-

Josh Allen

Allen wasted zero time showing off the cannon he has attached to the part of his body where people would normally have an arm. On his very first play, Allen unleashed a rocket that traveled 60 yards in the air. The receiver, former Alabama wide-out Robert Foster, caught the ball, but barely stepped out, negating a huge gain. The yardage won’t show up on the box score, but Allen put the league on notice with that throw.

Allen’s arm talent is unquestioned. He uncorked another mammoth 65-yarder in the fourth quarter that went just over his receiver’s head, completed a 30-yard dart to former Clemson Tiger Ray-Ray McCloud in the teeth of the defense, and connected on an insane, off-balance heave to Khari Lee on the sideline.

However, Allen’s most impressive play of the preseason didn’t come until the second game:

That’s an NFL throw by every measure.

The knock on Allen is that he has far too many negative plays that can offset his brilliance. On plays like the one he had on a fourth down against Carolina — Buffalo missed the blitz pickup, Allen ran for his life and chucked up a duck from 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage — he can look very Jameis Winston-like, and being like Jameis Winston hasn’t worked out well for Jameis Winston. The Bills don’t have an All-World offensive line. Allen is going to face a lot of pressure early on, and learning when to fling it and when to take a sack will be crucial to keeping his turnovers down.

GRADE: B

Josh Rosen

Rosen checks every box required for playing quarterback in 2018. He’s intelligent, accurate, makes quick decisions, and is capable of creating with his legs. While his stats through two games aren’t quite as gaudy as his contemporaries (16-for-29, 148 yards, one touchdown in two games), there are several takeaways from Rosen’s play that were promising.

A big worry surrounding Rosen throughout his collegiate career was his health. After enduring multiple concussions and undergoing shoulder surgery, critics were quick to paint Rosen as an ‘injury-plagued’ player that wouldn’t be able to get through the rigorous NFL schedule. The Chargers defense tested his toughness. On Rosen’s very first drop back, he got absolutely thrashed, and still delivered an on-time, accurate pass to his receiver on an out-route.

Rosen got hit several times throughout both contests, but he hung in there and sprung back to his feet after every knockdown. When given a clean pocket, Rosen was above-average, and seemed to have already developed a rapport with fellow rookie Christian Kirk — the pair hooked up for a touchdown against the Saints.

If the Cardinals can keep him clean, Rosen will prove his worth as a top-10 selection.

GRADE: C+

Lamar Jackson

We can talk about how uncomfortable he looked in the pocket, or how inaccurate he was even when given time, but I’d rather discuss this:

That play exemplifies everything that makes Jackson so special. His blend of speed, creativity, and elusiveness is why so many have called upon the Michael Vick comparison’s. Jackson is still a project that probably won’t see the field much this season. That being said, he’s already the most athletic quarterback in the league and will get his shot to lead a team in the near future.

GRADE: C

Sources: Twitter/BuffFantatics, Twitter/NFLFilmStudy, Twitter/SBNation, Twitter/Soonergridiron, Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports